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Ethiopia: 1. Information on the forced recruitment of young female Ethiopians (aged 10-30) into military service. 2. Information on the Ethiopian government's attitude towards members of the Issaq tribe for 1980-1989

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 August 1989
Citation / Document Symbol ETH2052
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ethiopia: 1. Information on the forced recruitment of young female Ethiopians (aged 10-30) into military service. 2. Information on the Ethiopian government's attitude towards members of the Issaq tribe for 1980-1989, 1 August 1989, ETH2052, available at: [accessed 25 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


In 1983, military service in Ethiopia was made compulsory for males between the ages of 18-30, while those aged 30-50 were required to enlist for reserve duty. The 30 month term of service consists of six months training and two years active duty. [Amnesty International, Conscientious Objection to Military Service, (London: February 1988), Annex 2, pp. 1-19.] All men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 undergo the six months reserve training. [Europa Year Book 1988: A World Survey, (London: Europa Publications, 1988), p. 989.]

In its resolve to keep up the pressure against various insurgencies, the Ethiopian government has increasingly resorted to forced military recruitment of teenagers. According to a 26 May 1989 issue of Africa Confidential, "During the night of 23 April, which was Palm Sunday for Eastern Christians and the beginning of the most holy week of the year, it is estimated that 10,000 youngsters were picked up in Addis Abeba alone. It seems each Kebelle (the basic neighbourhood administrative unit) had a quota of conscripts to fill. In the frequent absence of birth certificates, weight was used to determine age. Consequently, boys as young as 13 years old were forced into the army." ["Ethiopia: A blow by blow account", Africa Confidential, 26 May 1989, p.2.] A May 1989 article in The Economist corroborates this reported forced recruitment of young boys; "Mr. Mengestu is set on fighting. To the disgust of some generals, he has kidnapped thousands of teenagers and sent them off to fight with barely any training." ["Ethiopia's Coup: Mengistu's tottering empire", The Economist, 20-26 May 1989, p. 50.] There is no information presently available to the IRBDC specifically dealing with the forced recruitment of young Ethiopian girls.

Mr. Abebe Engedachew, a prominent member of the Ethiopian Canadian community, states that the Peasant Associations, the Urban Dweller's Associations (Kebelles), the Revolutionary Ethiopian Women's Associations and the Revolutionary Ethiopian Youth Associations, were created by the government to implement its policies. Between 1978 and 1980, the directive for the Revolutionary Defence Committees within the associations, was to recruit women for militia training in order that they assist in protecting their specific areas.

According to Mr. Engedachew, although women were not required to engage in active military duty, militia training is indirectly enforced through the withholding of basic foodstuffs and restrictions on employment or educational opportunities, both of which are within the jurisdiction of the Rural Peasant and Urban Dweller's Associations.

The status of the Ogaden area, regarded by the Ethiopian Government as belonging to its eastern region, has been disputed by successive Somalian governments since the country's independence in 1960. [Alan J. Day, ed., Border and Territorial Disputes, 2nd Edition (London: Longman Group UK Ltd., 1987),

p. 126.] 1977 saw the beginning of aggression between Ethiopia and Somali over the Ogaden region which finally resulted in Ethiopia claiming victory in 1978. [C. Legum, ed., Africa Contemporary Record: Annual Survey and Documents 1982-1983, (New York: Africana Publishing Company, 1984), p. B161.] Amnesty International's report is corroborated by African Contemporary Record 1986, which indicates that hostilities have remained unabated with both sides accusing each other of military incursions and of supporting armed dissident movements opposed to their respective regimes. [African Contemporary Record 1984-1985, p.B248.]

Somali members of the Issaq clan began arriving in Ethiopia in large numbers in January 1987. [ Sidni Lamb, "The Meaning of Welcome", Refugees, (Geneva, UNHCR) February 1988, p. 15.] By February 1988, there were over 18,000 Somali Issaq refugees on the Harshin-Hartishek plain of Ethiopia, [ Ibid.] and an estimated 22,000 more Somali refugees in the Warder and Kelafo regions. [ Ibid., p. 16.] The Ethiopian Red Cross Society and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health began providing services for the Somalis in May 1987. [ Ibid.] According to the UNHCR, the Ethiopian government helped identify alternative sites for refugee settlements because of the harsh environmental conditions present where many of the Somali Issaqs had originally settled in the Hararghe lowlands. [ Annick Billard, "New Emergency in Ethiopia", Refugees, September 1988, p. 16.] In addition, the Ethiopian authorities are reported to have made food, medical supplies, and water quickly available to the refugees in Jijiga and Aware by organizing an airlift from Addis to the affected areas. [ Ibid.]

The flight of Issaq Somalis to Ethiopia escalated after internal strife in Somalia increased in May 1988, and by mid-October 1988 an estimated 380,000 Somalis had found their way to Hararghe. [ Mohammed Benamar, "Hope and uncertainties", Refugees, November 1988, p. 34.] By the end of July, an average of 3,500 new refugees were arriving each day. [ Ibid.] The attached articles from Refugees, a UNHCR publication, indicate a prompt emergency response by the Ethiopian government to the recent Issaq Somali refugee influx. An article in The Economist from May 1989, alleges that the estimates of the number of Somali refugees in the camps is actually too high, and that there are fewer than 350,000. [ "A fatal bungle", The Economist, 13 May 1989, p. 50.] The commentary goes on to discuss mismanagement of food and ration cards in the camp.

It should also be pointed out that many Somalis of the Issaq clan are engaged in a war against the government of Somalia, and that the Ethiopian government allowed the guerrilla forces of the Somali National Movement (SNM) to maintain bases inside Ethiopia. [ U.S. Committee for Refugees, Beyond the Headlines: Refugees in the Horn of Africa, (1988), p. 38.] In April 1988, the governments of Ethiopia and Somalia agreed on the withdrawal of troops from the common border area, to re-establish diplomatic links and, to stop supporting and providing bases for dissidents groups opposed to their respective regimes. [Africa Confidential, London: Miramoor Publications, 29 April 1988.]

Since late 1986, 5,979 Ethiopians have returned from Somalia under repatriation programs sponsored by the UNHCR. [U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988, (Washington: U.S. Department of State, 1989), p. 117.] According to the U.S. Department of State, there were no reports of mistreatment or discrimination against these refugees upon their return. [ Ibid.] The report goes on to say that unconfirmed reports indicate that many Ethiopian refugees from northern Somalia have returned to Ethiopia to avoid the security problems in Somalia.

UNHCR reports that renewed fighting between troops and rebels in northwestern Somalia has forced about 8,000 people to flee to Ethiopia in the first two weeks of August 1989. Albert-Alain Peters, of the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees, said that about 650 refugees were entering Ethiopia daily. [" Somalis Flee Fighting to Ethiopia", Globe and Mail, Toronto: 18 August 1989, p.A10.]

Please see the attached articles:

1) "A fatal bungle", The Economist, 13 May 1989.

2) Billard, Annick. "New Emergency in Ethiopia", Refugees, September 1988, pp. 16-17.

3) Lamb, Sidni. "The meaning of welcome", Refugees, February 1988, pp. 15-16.

4) Benamar, Mohammed. "Hope and uncertainties", Refugees, November 1988, pp. 34-35.

5) U.S. Committee for Refugees. Beyond the Headlines: Refugees in the Horn of Africa. January 1988, p. 38.

6) Africa Confidential, London: Miramoor Publications, 29 April 1988.

7) "In Ethiopia, Yet Another Burden: The Castoffs of Neighbors' Wars", The New York Times, New York: 7 August 1989, p.A7.

8) "Another Burden in Ethiopia: Refugees", The New York Times, New York:, 7 August 1989.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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